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In the eyes of the elite, city life had transformed into an unfit place for children, as dangerous as it was decadent. Children were spending too much time inside, and young boys were “softening,” becoming “more feminine” due to a lack of outdoor recreational opportunities. Through the charge of private schoolmasters, physicians, ministers, and The Fresh Air Movement, the American summer camp was born or at least introduced in its very early stages. (Paris, 2008)

The idea of the organized summer camp served to fill a need in the new modern cities, offering “city children experience with open spaces and sunshine."(Eells, 1986) We recognize now that this did not include all “city children” (largely due to the Chinese Exclusion Act: 1882 and later Plessy v. Ferguson: 1896 among other prohibitive factors ), but rather a few hundred young white boys from upper-middle-class families whose families dreamt of a place where their children could experience a romanticized version of American roots.

Camping, at its core, served as an escape from modern society, preserving a historically national experience of the American frontier, something some felt had been lost. The first summer camps were inspired by legends of the explorers and pioneers, plus heavy influence through Indigenous and American Indian culture (both appreciation and appropriation)

A key element in the expansion of summer camps for American youth had much to do with The Settlement Movement beginning in 1886. Leaders of The Settlement Movement aimed to support immigrants' living situations through funds, community centers, and opportunities for youth recreation. While the Settlement Movement landed in many major cities in the United States, the 1889 establishment of Jane Addams’ Chicago-based Hull-House had a significant impact on art education programming through its major contributions to the arts, unwavering support for the arts, and provider of art opportunities for each local community.

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